LAPS Reports On April 21 School Board Virtual Meeting

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The Los Alamos Public School Board met on Tuesday evening, April 21, for a historic virtual meeting via Google Meet. 

Instead of a sign up sheet for those wishing to make a public comment, individuals were encouraged to submit their comments to Tuesday afternoon instead. All board members and participating presenters joined the meeting via Google Meet while the general public was able to view through a Google Meet live stream. 

The school board met in a closed executive session prior to the meeting to discuss collective bargaining agreements. No action was taken. 

The board then recognized Leah Mountain and her efforts to pass a change in graduation policy at Los Alamos High School. Leah, a senior and active athlete at LAHS, proposed an option for Native American students to wear a traditional sash at the graduation ceremony to celebrate their culture in a respectful way. Board President Ellen Ben-Naim acknowledged Leah’s ability to accomplish this policy change in a diligent manner.

“We recognize you and your months and months of effort,” Ben-Naim said.

Speaking in her native language, Leah thanked the school staff and all those that helped her through this process. James Mountain, Chair of the Native American Parent Advisory Council added words of respect and appreciation to the School Board and Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus.

LEAH MOUNTAIN rev (1)Los Alamos High School senior Leah Mountain was honored by the Los Alamos School Board April 21. Photo Courtesy LAPS

“The Native American Parent Advisory Council applauds the efforts of Leah Mountain and the recognition by the School Board,” said James Mountain. “It is bold acts of leadership and collective efforts like these taken by Leah, the School Board and the Administration that we will be able to truly understand one-another and collectively progress our communities. This is yet another step in the right direction for our school district to continue recognizing the Native American history of these lands in a true educational and respectful manner. Thank you Leah and LAPS.” 

The board, along with the County Council, proclaimed May “Celebrating Our Seniors Month.” The Class of 2020 will be honored through a series of activities, starting this week with the distribution of yard signs to the home of each senior.

Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus updated the board on the progress of the 2020-2021 school budget which is slated to be presented during the next school board meeting. State funding is affected by the fluctuation in oil and gas prices, as well as gross receipts tax and personal income tax, all of which are seeing a downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Steinhaus noted that he is part of a group of school superintendents having discussions on how to help with the state budget crisis.

“It’s good to be having conversations about budget challenges for the state of New Mexico,” said School Board member Stephen Boerigter.  Steinhaus added that we don’t know when this is going to end yet, but we are working together.

Erin Middleton, LAPS Data Analyst, and Dr. Steinhaus, presented the draft 2020 Climate Survey questions which will be distributed to staff at all schools in the district. They explained that staff has participated in this survey for the past five years. “It is helpful to a new principal or a counselor to have data from a couple of years,” said Middleton. She also pointed out that four questions specific to the current closure have been added to this year’s survey.  President Ben-Naim asked for an additional question about support for staff. Surveys will be emailed to staff next week.

Next, Connie Clark presented to the board two leases for approval. Clark presented an interim lease for Wiemann Wealth Strategies, LLC starting out in Suite S. As part of the construction process, they will be moving into Suite T with a long-term lease. Both were approved. The board then approved a service agreement to let the School Resource Officer move a mobile home into the Los Alamos Middle School site. This service agreement, with an initial term of two years, includes an understanding that the officer will provide security for the area. Lastly, the school board agreed to give Clark and Superintendent Steinhaus authority to discuss payment options on a case-by-case basis with current tenants in anticipation that they may not be able to pay rent during this time. In the case that the tenants request some kind of relief, Clark and Steinhaus will come back to the board for guidance. Board members agreed that these conversations are important and appreciate the effort to meet the needs of the district’s tenants. 

The School Board then approved the creation of a strategic growth planning committee to address the enrollment growth projected by the growth in the community triggered by LANL hiring and new housing. School Board Member Stephen Boerigter explained that the committee will solicit input from the community through public meetings, consider growth scenarios and review the pros and cons of options. The committee will include School Board members and LAPS staff.

Human Resources Manager Joe Palmer then presented to the board the revised Collective Bargaining Agreement for the Federation and LAPS Administration for its certified employees, paraprofessionals and school related personnel. This agreement was reviewed in full and will be effective July 2020 through June 2021. Palmer thanked the administration team and those from the Federation including Whitney Holland for a very smooth process. He said, “I think we came to some good decisions that will benefit all school staff.”

The first major change was pooling the annual and sick leave banks into a personal leave bank for classified, paraprofessional and school related personnel so that all their time is one bank and can be used as they see fit. In addition, bus drivers and bus assistants are now covered under the collective bargaining agreement.

The next regular school board meeting is Tuesday, May 12. The next school board work session is Thursday, May 28. Both meetings are scheduled to meet virtually.